We’re already in March (how did that happen!) and it’s time for the second team in group C, which is Italy.
The Italians are back on the biggest international stage there is – they returned roaring and without a single doubt. They won seven out of their eight games to top the group in the qualifiers, and their only loss was against Belgium in the last game, with the result not being of any importance to the outcome of the group. It has been a good start to their World Cup campaign and it is just about time that the Azzure (nickname for the team, means ‘the blue’ in feminine) get back out on international stages, only having qualified to two previous World Cups (reaching the quarterfinals in the inaugural version of the competition in China, and not getting out of the group stages in USA 1999) and managing so-so in the European Championships, alternating between having reached the quarterfinals and not getting out of the group stage since 1997, when they finished as runners-up.
Azzure have a lot of good players in their squad, many of them playing in the country’s own league, mainly in Juventus. Sara Gama is the captain of the squad and the defender, being a longstanding member of the national team, brings the experience at the back. Aurora Galli and Manuela Giugliano are two young and strong midfielders who have experience, coming up the ranks of the U-17 and U-19 teams before landing in the national team, and they’ve both been getting plenty of playing time. Up top Italy has got two reliable goalscorers in Barbara Bonansea and Cristiana Girelli, in between them scoring nine goals in eight games, with Girelli – on absolute fire – averaging almost a goal a game with her six goals in the qualification round.
The coach for the Azzure is Milena Bertolini, who took over from Antonio Cabrini in August 2017, after the Euros, and she’s been the one to lead the team back to glory, qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in 20 years. Bertolini is a former central defender and she played in Italy’s top league for 15 years. Thereafter she moved onto coaching and has previously been in charge of Verona, Reggiana and Brescia. Bertolini started off playing her team in a 4-4-2 formation but has since branched out into other possibilities, including a 4-3-3 and variations thereof, as well as 3-5-2.
Bertolini and her team has had a rather steep hill to climb in terms of being recognised and taken seriously in Italy, and the work is far from over in a country where there’s still a lot of work to be done. A recent controversial comment made by one of the members of Italy’s 1982 World Cup-winning side, Fulvio Collovati, only goes to prove the point.
“When I hear a woman speak about tacticts it turns my stomach. A woman doesn’t understand like a man,” the pundit – for the state broadcaster RAI – said. Luckily the comment did not go unchallenged and Collovati was suspended from the channel.
Bertolini has underlined the importance of this World Cup, in terms of further development in the country.
“It can help little girls, as well as all Italians, understand how normal it is for girls to play football,” she said. In Italy, there are only about 23.000 registered female players, compared to countries like Germany with 200.000, or England with over 100.000 players, and it is clear that there is a lot of work to be done, and the Italian national side can do a lot just by representing their country on the world stage.
Italy have been busy recently, playing in Cyprus Cup where they played and won against Hungary, Mexico and Thailand in the group before going up against Korea DPR in the final. It was a tight game where Korea had to play with one player less after the 44th minute, and after full time the score was 2-2, which saw the game go into extratime, where it got even more exciting as Korea first scored, only to then have another player sent off and Italy scoring minutes later. This meant that things were once again level after extratime and it went onto penalties, where Korea managed to turn it around to win 7-6 on pens.
Is a silver medal in the Cyprus cup preparing the way for bigger things ahead? Italy is just making a return onto the big stage but who knows what they can come up with! Let us know what you think about this Italian team in the comments below.